Interpreting in Immigration Settings: Be prepared, don’t be swayed

When working on an immigration case, the last thing attorneys want to worry about is an interpreter who is not competent or professional. We asked an immigration attorney Leonid Garbuzov for his input on what makes a great immigration interpreter. Below are some of his suggestions about what attorneys and judges expect from the interpreter.passport-315266_1280

  1. Be Prepared

Nothing is worse than an interpreter that comes unprepared. Always bring a pen, paper and a legal dictionary.  Brush up on your legal terminology.  Don’t be late and don’t schedule other assignments for the same morning or afternoon as your immigration hearing, as you never know how long you will be there.

      2. Learn Your Terminology but Don’t Be a Know-It-All

While you should not expect the attorney, immigration officer, or the judge to explain legal terminology, you have to be sure that you understand the subject matter.  One illustrative example from my experience was an interpreter who mistranslated a question about an immigrant’s potential ties with “guerrilla organizations”, and asked whether he ever belonged to a “gorilla organization”.  When in doubt, it is better to ask.  If you realize that a mistake has occurred, you have to notify the judge, hearing officer, or the attorney immediately, and explain and correct the mistake.

      3. Do Not Add or Take Away From What’s Being Said

Another mistake is when an interpreter tries to add personal comments in order to make the subject matter easier to understand.  While the hearing officer, the client, or the attorney may not always be clear, it is not the interpreter’s job to “second-guess” and help them.  In one instance, when a client of mine with a serious mental impairment could not respond to an immigration officer’s questions, the interpreter tried to tell him that he was answering incorrectly, and even attempted to suggest what the correct answer should be.  Such conduct by an interpreter is never appropriate.

       4. Be Confident

Finally, it is important to not get riled up and to keep a professional demeanor.  This is especially important when an attorney—particularly the one who speaks the same language as the client – decides to challenge the accuracy of your translation.  It is important to know that these challenges are not uncommon and that they do not necessarily mean that an interpreter made a mistake or a misstatement.  An interpreter must remain undeterred by these tactics, must keep his/her voice clear, and must continue to interpret to the best of his/her ability without being swayed by these challenges.    

By Leonid Garbuzov of Garbuzov Law Firm, PLLC, special for IEO

IEO offers a comprehensive course developed by professional immigration interpreters and immigration attorneys. Immigration interpreting presents unique sets of challenges and requirements, so it’s essential for any interpreter to learn the protocol and legal concepts to understand and succeed in this field.    

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